When your child is young, you do most of the advocating for him. You speak up on his behalf at his preschool, you interpret his aches and pains to the nurses at the doctor’s office, and you step in when necessary to help your toddler son negotiate turns on the playground swings. Eventually, however, all children grow up and must learn to fend for themselves.
Learning to self-advocate during childhood is a skill that can help your child throughout his high school and college years, in relationships, and in his career.
Here are some tips to help you teach your child to advocate for himself:
• Teach your child to be authentic and trustworthy. His actions should line up with his feelings. By teaching a strong sense of values and integrity, you are strengthening your child’s inner core, and therefore, his ability to be assertive.
• Teach the difference between being assertive and being aggressive. That old adage “it’s not what you say, but how you say it” is important for self-advocacy. Teaching your child how to tactfully and clearly explain his position and feelings to others – without defense – allows him to be self-advocating, without the need for approval. If your child becomes more concerned about how he’s perceived, then he loses his ability to lead.
• Most importantly, you must be what you want to see. Through your own authentic interaction with others, you are both modeling and teaching your child daily to respect the opinions of others, to evaluate them, and then to follow his/her authentic voice. Life is about relationships, and learning to self-advocate helps your child have the greatest potential for healthy relationships with others. Modeling for your child good managerial skills teaches him to self-advocate without dominating.
• Teach your child to listen and practice empathy. Teach him to value the thoughts and ideas of others; and to not take rejection of his positions personally. Study groups, team sports, clubs – all of these group environments can teach your child to self-advocate without over-controlling.
Advocating for yourself is one way to take control of your own destiny. When your child learns to advocate for himself, he becomes self-actualized and has the opportunity to reach his full potential. The benefits of learning to self-advocate are far-reaching: from having the confidence to walk away from an unhealthy relationship, to asking for and getting the promotion that launches his career.